Tower block residents ‘misled’ over fire safety

Northwood Tower is the tallest building in Walthamstow
Northwood Tower is the tallest council tower block in Walthamstow

Tests show that fire doors installed three years ago did not provide the protection council first claimed, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham Forest Council has been accused of “misleading” hundreds of residents over the safety of their homes.

At a council meeting last month, Nick Tiratsoo claimed 217 residents in Walthamstow’s Northwood Tower, plus four other council-owned blocks, had been misled over the fire resistance of their front doors.

Nick alleged that the council had repeatedly insisted new doors installed after the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 were “FD60”, meaning they could withstand fire for an hour, and that it emerged this year that this was not true. Neither of these claims were disputed by Louise Mitchell, the council’s cabinet member responsible for housing and homelessness prevention, who responded to his statement at the meeting.

Waltham Forest Council is in the process of improving fire safety in all its buildings, a task which it estimates will cost around £38million to complete – with a possibility tenants and leaseholders may be asked to contribute towards this cost.

Nick, who runs an investigative local blog called Waltham Forest Matters, told councillors: “The council told residents that the new front entrance doors were certified FD60 and made the same claim repeatedly in public.

“In 2019, for reasons that remain unexplained, the council sent three [doors] from the 2017/18 batch to Dubai for fire testing – and they failed at 31, 34, and 45 minutes.”

The law currently requires fire doors to be able to withstand flames for 30 minutes, meaning the current doors are legally safe, although this is one of many regulations expected to be reviewed after the conclusion of the ongoing Grenfell Inquiry.

The doors in question were installed at Northwood Tower, Boothby Court, Goddarts House, Holmcroft House and Lime Court between 2017 and 2018. The council has stated that it is currently making a “commercial claim” against the company which sold them these doors.

In November 2018, a Goddarts House resident told the Echo he was concerned about his new front door, describing it as “a total failure” with “no label of certification”. Responding at the time, Cllr Mitchell stated the doors were “rated as fire resistant up to 60 minutes”.

Nick asked the council if it had “formally apologised” to residents in the five affected blocks for “misleading” them over three years. He also called on the council to “publish the evidence that it relied upon” that the fire doors were FD60, to explain why it had them tested, and to say whether it informed the police when they failed.

Speaking at the council meeting, Cllr Mitchell insisted fire safety “has always been a priority” and encouraged any residents with concerns to alert the council immediately. She said: “Nothing is more important than the safety of our residents. That means ensuring that our management of and investment in council homes puts fire safety first.

“As a council we are investing £250m in our housing stock over the next six years and £40m of that is specifically set aside for building safety.

“The government is bringing in stronger measures to ensure new buildings are built safely and existing buildings are brought up to standard. We are going above and beyond these requirements to make all our council homes safe and fit for the future.

“I want to be absolutely clear, if anyone – any resident or member – has concerns that there is a potential fire risk in their building, they should report this issue to us immediately.

“I’m always happy to look into residents’ concerns and will ensure that we provide a full response.”

She added that, since the Grenfell Tower disaster, the council had begun identifying and fixing issues in its buildings and regularly inspecting fire doors.